The Outstanding Ofsted Experts: 8 Teaching, Learning & Assessment Tips

Learning is a two way street.
February 26, 2022
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Welcome to edition number six in our new series on Ofsted. We’ve talked to five outstanding nursery managers and leaders, as well as leading early years expert Dr Sue Allingham, to bring you all the tips, advice, and guidance that you need to improve your Ofsted rating.

How well do you know each child and where they’re at developmentally? What's it like to be a child in your Early Years settings? How does your setting use internal assessment information and skilful observation to support children's learning? How does the implementation of your curriculum and Early Years practice contribute to children's developing skills and progress?

This is what Ofsted want to find out.

Below, our experts reveal the key tips that have helped them achieve that all-important outstanding grade at their setting.

1. Learning from the children

Your setting’s children directly reflect the hours of hard work you and your team put in. What better indicator of an outstanding setting than seeing children whose teaching and learning needs are being met? And, while an Ofsted inspection used to mean hours in the office combing through folders, the learning walk gives inspectors a much better opportunity to gather evidence about the everyday life and learning of the children in your setting.

Multiple inspectors have said to me now that they shouldn’t need to talk to a manager or staff member to see if a setting is outstanding. They say that they can learn everything they need to know from the children.

- Lizzy Barlow, Nursery Group Leader, Hollies Day Nursery

2. Know the children

By gaining a deep understanding of the children, your staff can have more in-depth discussions about the specifics of their learning journeys with Ofsted. Knowing children really well means having knowledge of their starting points, understanding their needs and interests, what skills they're developing and how you can support them get to where they need to go next. Inspectors aren't looking for you to have spent hours writing an assessment - your practice will show how well you know the children and their families.

You need to make sure that staff know their key children really well and that they have the time to build those relationships with both the children and the parents.

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

3. Individual learning plans

Every child is different and certain concepts may come quickly to some, while taking time for others. Individual learning plans ensure all children can progress at the right pace. That being said, you certainly don't need to be creating an unnecessary workload in the form of hundreds of individually hand-written plans. Make an assessment of how much you really need to write down compared to how well you know the child, based on your everyday practice. And, if you're only making all those lovely reports for your next inspection, consider using that writing time on interacting instead.

What really swung it for us was how well we know our children. Every child has an individual learning plan and twice a year we take the time to make assessments on how the children are doing and produce a CoEL report on them. We use our own practitioner knowledge for that which helps us to understand our children really well.

- Ailsa Monk, Principal, Cotswold Montessori School

4. In-the-moment planning

A traditional, rigorous approach to planning often stifles children’s interest and engagement in activities. Time to consider ‘in-the-moment’ planning? Depending on the nature of your Early Years setting and your curriculum, some activities may still need to be planned in advance, but to meet EYFS requirements, you don't need a by-the-minute plan of the day's activities. Having an understanding of what might happen, or rhythm of the day, may help some children, especially those who require an element of additional support. But freely accessible resources can help children to take responsibility for their own learning, and enjoy the responsibility of choice. Skillful interaction by education providers can then enhance these experiences or activities by challenging and extending children's learning.

Changing to in-the-moment planning has been really positive for the children. They are so much more engaged and they settle a lot more quickly because of the continuous provision. It means they know where things are when they arrive in the morning.

- Catherine Walker, Childcare Manager, Priesthills Nursery

How to be outstanding: The Ofsted Inspection Guide

Renewed and updated for 2023: Get ideas, tips, and advice on what it takes to be outstanding from Early Years managers and Ofsted’s Phil Minns and Wendy Ratcliff.

Get this guide

5. What's next

Knowing what's next for children is not about choosing the next Development Matters or Birth to Five Matters statement. It's not good for the children and it won’t impress Ofsted. Children's progress won't all follow the same linear pathway, and while curriculum guidance like the ones above are useful, they can't possibly know the children in your cohort better than you do. Having the knowledge of the child, their learning, their progress, their skills, and most importantly, what they're interested in, means you are best placed to assess where to help them develop.

Staff need to think for themselves when it comes to next steps. Because if you’re just given an automatic next step, that might not be the right one for that child. And the inspector said she agreed with that.

- Michelle Tuddenham, Manager, Little Acorns Montessori

6. Time in the classroom

When you're in leadership and management, finding a way to spend time ‘on the ground’ is the best way to ensure your setting is on track and providing a consistent, high-quality learning environment for the children. Although the admin is important, inspection judgements aren't based on how well you send out the invoices, so try to get out of the office as much as possible. Spending time with the children is not only good for your professional knowledge, but allows you to get an idea of the overall effectiveness of your provision. Take the time to reflect on:

  • What the implementation of your curriculum looks like day-to-day, for the children who attend your setting?
  • How can you support your educators or room leaders in their teaching?
  • What does best practice look like to you and your setting?
  • How is practice inclusive of all children's development and needs? For example, SEND, EAL, and disadvantaged children?

At the beginning of each big term I spend a whole day in each class with the teachers to track the children’s development. I also observe how the classroom runs, how the teachers are teaching, how the routines are and so on. That is my monitoring system to make sure no child is left behind and that we always have things to improve on.

- Ailsa Monk, Principal, Cotswold Montessori School

7. EYFS not the focus?

Documentation plays a key role in gathering evidence of your setting’s teaching, learning and assessment efforts, but Ofsted want to see what you're doing in practice. Children's personal learning journals can be used to evidence how children have made progress, but don't focus too heavily on attainment data. An Outstanding grade isn't earned by the most impressive-looking assessments alone. Ofsted want to see how Early Years providers support individual children's development, based on excellent knowledge of that child. Instead of creating evidence just for Ofsted about how you meet the requirements of the new framework, focus on how you provide a challenging, accessible, broad and varied curriculum, supporting children's cultural capital.

They used to go through all of your journals and tracking with a fine tooth comb but I don’t think the EYFS is the focus anymore. It’s more important that you’re looking at where each child is and use that to push them further on.

- Michelle Tuddenham, Manager, Little Acorns Montessori

8. Correcting your mistakes

Nobody is perfect, even the most Outstanding Early Years setting, and Ofsted understand that. Professional development often comes in the form of doing something one way, and then realising how it could be done better. But instead of trying to hide from mistakes, it’s important to be constructive and learn from them. More importantly than Ofsted, children pay close attention to how you handle a failure or a mistake, so you can role model thinking critically about how to fix or improve something.

A member of staff was doing an activity with playdough when a child wanted to come in and put water in the playdough and she stopped him. That is not outstanding practice. But within 30 seconds she realised she’d made a mistake and so in front of the inspector she went to her line manager and said “I’ve made a mistake and I need to change it”.

Together they brought the child back in, brought the water with them and they developed the activity into something completely different. In her report, the inspector noted specifically that this was outstanding practice. She said it doesn’t matter that she made a mistake, she acknowledged it, she did something about it, and she engaged the child with the child-initiated choice. That was the outstanding practice.

- Becky Pike, Partner, Hollies Day Nurseries

Found some helpful tips? Well, we’ve got some good news. You can find further information now by downloading the full guide for free, with 12 different sections covering every area of your Ofsted inspection. Time to get the outstanding result that your setting deserves.

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Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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“Famly’s strengthening our parent partnerships as staff can quickly note down meaningful observations and then come back to them later ensuring they can stay focused on the children." - Vicky-Leigh, Manager, Tenderlinks Nursery

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Find out below how Famly helped Tenderlinks in recording child development, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

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Find out below how Famly helped Tenderlinks in recording child development, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

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Learn more about Famly

Find out below how Famly helped Tenderlinks in recording child development, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

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Learn more about Famly

Find out below how Famly helped Tenderlinks in recording child development, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.